No matter how dedicated you are to your weight-loss plan, dinner always seems to be the meal that throws people off, and the culprit isn’t always what you’re eating. Sure, you might have planned or cooked a healthy meal, but you’ve also got to consider when you’re eating, what you’re drinking, and what the rest of your day has looked like leading up to your evening meal.
“I hear a lot of complaints from friends or new clients saying that they are ‘so good’ during the day but blow it when it is finally dinnertime,” says Registered DietitianBrigitte Zeitlin, owner of BZNutrition. “But I ask what happened during the day they were ‘so good,’ it usually boils down to skipping breakfast, or eating too little during the day.”
Think about it—dinner comes with a few extra choices and options that can throw you off your weight-loss game. For example, you likely eat breakfast shortly after waking up, so there’s no question of timing, and at lunch, you probably don’t have alcohol (at least not on weekdays). But when it comes time for dinner, these extra variables can complicate what you thought was just your third meal of the day.
That might seem like a lot to consider for just one meal, but if you implement just a few simple strategies, you won’t have to worry about your meal affecting your waistline, and eventually, they’ll likely turn into lasting healthy habits.
AVOID EATING DINNER LATE AT NIGHT
“Late” can mean different things depending on your schedule, but the point here is to not wait so long to eat that you’re so ravenous and will scarf down way more than you actually wanted or needed for dinner, says Keri Gans, R.D., author of The Small Change Diet.
Another reason to eat on the earlier side: Zeitlin recommends at least a two-hour window from table to bed. “By giving yourself time to digest your food before lying down, you will get a better night’s sleep and also wake up hungry for breakfast, which is the key to making sure your whole day (and night) stay on track,” she says.
REACH FOR A PREPPED MEAL
You probably hear this one a lot, but for a good reason—knowing ahead of time what you’re going to be eating takes the guesswork out of the equation, says Gans. Having a meal already made (or even just the ingredients ready to go), helps you avoid the temptation of choosing a less healthy meal. So plan ahead!
But, if you forgot to prep something, don't worry. Just turn to a known healthy takeout meal, says Gans. (Check the nutritional info for that restaurant's dish before you order.) That way, even when you're out of options at home or feeling lazy, you can quickly order takeout that fits with your weight-loss goals, she says.
PORTION OUT YOUR PLATE
You don’t have to specifically measure out your foods, but some general guidelines can help you decide what portions you should be aiming for. Gans suggests this easy combination: one-half of your plate should be vegetables, one-fourth should be your lean meat, and the last fourth is your carbs.
For example, if you love pasta, there’s no need to give that up for weight loss—just make the veggies the star of the dish and the noodles the "side."
RELATED: The Best Breakfast For Weight Loss
LIMIT YOUR BOOZE
“You can drink alcohol and still lose weight, but it can easily backfire if you are drinking too much or drinking sugary cocktails,” says Zeitlin. Try to have alcohol no more than three nights a week, and if you are having a glass with dinner, stick to just one.
And when it comes to choosing your booze, aim for wine or liquors like vodka or tequila, solo or with club soda to avoid anything too sugary. Beer can be more filling, causing you to eat less of your food and then binge later. (Alcohol amps up hunger and lowers your inhibitions, leading you to that late-night slice of pizza.)
DRINK WATER AS AN APPETIZER
Speaking of dinnertime beverages, one 2015 study from the University of Oxford found that when adults drank about 16 ounces of water 30 minutes before their meals, they ended up eating far fewer calories during that meal compared to those who just imagined their stomachs were full. The result: Twelve weeks later, they had lost an extra 2.6 pounds.
Try the bottom's-up tactic: Drink one (if not two!) glasses of water even before you dish out your plate.
This article originally appeared on Women's Health US